The adage “you can’t judge a book by its cover” is completely false. A book’s cover gives the potential reader vital cues about whether or not this is a book they want. The typography, colors, photos, and even the size tell the reader about the content of the book and help them choose if it’s a book they want to spend time and money on.
Similarly, the design of a website (or any other material) has a huge impact on whether or not visitors come and how long they stay. Before reading the words or looking at individual images, visitors take in the overall look of the website and immediately begin deciding whether or not they want to spend time there.
Whether they are looking for a product, information, or just a way to waste time, your visitors want to see a website that is easy to understand, that communicates your company’s style, and that appeals to their interests.
Some of this is just basic good user interface: intuitive navigation, clear call to action, using headings and layout to direct flow, etc. Websites should also have a clear purpose. Each page should have a specific focus that is easy to see at a glance so visitors immediately understand what to do and how to do it. Information should also be organized in a consistent format that is easy to understand. (Though there are some websites that make people want to stay by having a purposefully unique format that intrigues people into sticking around to figure out.)
In addition to helping with the overall functionality of the site, one of the biggest impacts of design is that it gives your website a personality. Just like we don’t like to hang out with boring, colorless, lifeless people, we don’t like to hang out on boring, colorless, lifeless websites. We want to see a website that not only offers us something of value, but also offers it with a certain style and panache.
Granted, not everyone likes the same styles, so the same design will not appeal to every visitor. But that is actually a good thing. Most websites are more successful if they try to specifically attract their target audience instead of everyone in the world. With few exceptions, some of the most successful websites are those that have gathered a strong, loyal audience. The company and the audience have shared interests and the website design should reflect those interests and showcase the company’s personality.
A website should be the equivalent of a friend meeting the visitor at the door saying, “come in and stay a while” or “look what I have to show you.” Like a good friend, it should extend this invitation with its own twist and personality. Like a welcoming house, a website should make the visitor feel at home and provide them with all the comforts they need.